Hunderburton Adventures


A record of wanderings through Latin America

Disaster on the Torres Del Paine!

December 31st, 2011

So our attempt at finishing the Torres del Paine circuit was a blazing failure. That was a pun. If you can’t guess why, it will all become clear in time.

Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine – “Paine” I believe means blue in an extinct native language) refers to both the national park and these jutting out “towers” for which the park is famous (and obviously its namesake).

Image from wikipedia of Torres del Paine

I’ll start our story with the relevant history of the park: what we’ve gathered from speaking with locals is that the park started as farm land (albeit primarily unfarmable farmland due to its mountainous situation) and tourists wishing to hike through the land would request shelter, showers and whatnot from the farmers. Tourism increased and the farmers saw potential to capatalise on their situation, and set up serviced huts (called refugios). Most of the park has now been donated to the Chilean government, but parts, including some through which hikers pass, remains private property. The park is now one of Chile’s biggest tourist attractions bringing around 70,000 tourists every summer.

The biggest attractions of the park exist on a 4 day hike but for those wanting to see everything there is a 9 day full circuit (we got greedy and did this one). Okay, so to our adventures: around a week ago we set off for the 9 day circuit through the park. On the 5th day we joined the main tourist  drag, looking forward to seeing the iconic towers and all the other sights the lazy 4 day trekkers come to see. That night, we met a somewhat panicked American couple who told us that they had left their tents for a short day trip to see the nearby glacier, only to find on their return that a wall of fire separated them from their stuff. Later that night the authorities closed the path until the fire could be controlled. The fire blocked our planned route too, so we had no choice but to wait and see what would unfold. On the 6th day the refugio staff informed us we would need to evacuate by the end of the day. The two options available to us were to go back the way we came or to pay for a $70 ferry ride out. The ferry was a tourist boat providing scenic views of the glacier, it was also the only boat  on the glacial lake, and therefore the only evacuation route by water. We had been hiking next to this glacier for the past two days and were not too interested in paying for the privilege of seeing it from a slightly different angle. The ferry ran every few hours but was becoming increasingly late due to its new role evacuating hikers and supplying firefighters with new men and equipment. Even if we wanted to fork out that kind of money for evacuation we couldn’t since the ferries quickly become booked out. So again we had no choice but to wait around the refugio, peering out at the smoke wondering whether it was getting closer (A day later someone told us that it actually did burn down a neighbouring building to our refugio).

Torres del Paine fire from ferry during evacuation

The fire (taken from the ferry)

Later we were informed that even turning back was not an option, as the fire was spreading rapidly, and the entire park was to be closed for an indefinite period. This created the rather bizarre situation, one which could only ever be the result of poorly planned privatization, that we were legally required to leave, which we could only do by paying $70 per person, a price which many hikers don’t have the free cash to cover.

The fire made front page news in Argentina and Chile

We figured if the fire got close enough the Chilean government would be obliged to pay for our evacuation. We didn’t have the highest hopes, however, as we had heard that the emergency response in South America was second-rate; rather than fire fighting vehicles and helicopters, the volunteer fireman only had shovels and buckets. Furthermore, one story recounted by another hiker was of a mountain climber who died during a climb in Argentina. The Argentinian government’s response, either through lack of interest or funds, was to leave the body on the mountainside, and now climbers have the opportunity to see a corpse hanging on the side of a mountain (this may attract more tourists so perhaps is not such a bad move). Anyway, our assumption that Chile would pay for our evacuation may be have been a risky maneuver in order to save $70 but it paid off in the end when the government announced a state of emergency and gave us a free lift back to Puerto Natales (although we arrived at 1 am without a place to stay).

lago grey torres del paine fire evacuated ferry

Fire from afar: you can see the smoke at the base of the mountain and the ferry which rescued us.

So this is the reason we are back in Puerto Natales 3 days premature. The biggest “Paine” of this whole mess is that we missed the main highlights of the trek and probably won’t be back to this remote part of the world for a while.

Our 5 hiking days did however have perfect weather and we have seen things many wouldn’t. The weather was so rare that one park tour guide told us that it hadn’t been this sunny and dry in around 10 years. Usually, we’ve been told, the weather is  really crazy with perhaps sun in the morning, gale force winds by midday and snow by night. Most visitors are still blown away by the park which I guess is the reason for the sustained numbers of visitors (once quite literally, four years ago, when the strong winds in the area actually blew a hiker away. He probably died).

Unfortunately the unusually blue skies and hot sun we experienced were a likely contributing factor to the fire. Despite not seeing everything we still managed to see 3 glaciers. One of which Sven and I managed to get extremely (and probably dangerously) close to during one of our wanderings (there is so much day light in the area that after setting up camp it is easy to check out the area near the campsite). We scrambled down these rocks and ended up at the glacier. I’ve made a strip of pictures to show you the events which transpired:

glacier grey torres del paine

Sven eating glacial ice

I think Sven would like me to mention that that ice could be thousands of years old and also contributed towards shaping the environment we all came hiking to enjoy. If tasting glacial ice allowed one to share this history and to be part of the amazing geological system (which most humans can only humbly observe) and experience just a small amount of the grandness of this landscape, then Sven might be a very wise person… but it doesn’t so he isn’t; he’s just an idiot.

Glacier close up

We saw some pretty nice things in our 5 days but nothing which needs explaining, so here are some photos (They are in a higher resolution than usual so click to see them bigger); enjoy!

torres del paine circuit second day between seron and dickson

torres del paine lago dickson refugio

Location of one of the refugios (right next to the lake). The really white thing is a Glacier.

Glacier from a mountain pass

Ice bergs!

¡Feliz Navidad!

December 23rd, 2011

(¿Don’t you just love the upside down punctuation marks at the start of sentences?)

Puerto Natales

We are in Puerto Natales, a little Chilean town wayyy down South. For reference, its approximately 900km further South than the bottom of Tasmania. Add to this that yesterday was summer solstice, and you have very long days. The sun tends to set around 11pm and there is still some light at about 12:30 which feels quite strange.

Tomorrow we set off on our big hike around the Torres del Paine national park, Time Magazine’s ‘greatest hike in the world’. We’ll be away right up until New Years Eve (also known as Nick’s Birthday), so this is our last chance to say merry Christmas (‘feliz navidad’ over this side of the world) to everybody! In fact, by the time we get back the new year will have ticked over in Australia, so we should probably throw in a “Happy New Year” too!

Thanks for following our little blog, its been fun to update and we love looking at how many hits we have received on a given day/entry. The last couple of days have been quite funny actually. I’m not sure what has changed, but for some reason we’ve become visible to a whole heap of automated web crawlers and bots who have been posting these ridiculous comments. We allowed the first one or two, thinking someone reading might find them amusing like we did, but we’ve had at least 50 over the last couple of days so we’ve started deleting them on mass. Some of the messages deliver believable enough compliments or accusations “gotta hand it to you, there’s some good stuff here” or “dude, check your facts”, but others are ridiculously targeted and miss the mark entirely:

“Except the military and police are part of the 99%. It may work initially, but eventually they will also turn on their corporate masters”

(I cant imagine which blogs that comment would apply to…). We’ve also had some touching stories about how Hunderburton Adventures has changed people’s lives, a shout out to Alex Weisinger who wrote to us

“It’s the season of giving so I actually have a gift for you since we really love this blog. You know, in the last year it has really made an impact in our lives and dragged us from financial despair to living a very comfortable life.”

What can I say, you’re welcome Alex, it’s been a pleasure.

¡Chao chicos! More posts to come in the new year!

The Navimag

December 22nd, 2011

We’ve just arrived in Puerto Natales on the Navimag Ferry, which is essentially a cargo ship which runs between Puerto Mont and here. The Navimag Company apparently discovered that this freight route coincided with a leg of the journey taken by many travelers through Patagonia, and, some years back, began the lucrative business of ferrying tourists for $400 per head.

With this history in mind, we certainly weren’t expecting a luxury cruise, but for $400, which is considerably more than the cost of traveling the route the via most other means, we were still expecting… actually, I have no idea what we were expecting. Unfortunately for travelers such as ourselves, It is difficult to form accurate expectations of most things in Patagonia as it is usually almost impossible to find any information anywhere. When we planned to catch the bus to Bariloche, for instance, it was only by chance that another traveler mentioned to us that it had been so seriously effected by the volcano. Wikitravel didn’t mention any of the effects of the volcanic blast on the town, and the only article we could find online was a government travel warning from June (with a note stating that the information still applied at present) declaring that the the city was in a state of emergency, the town was in the process of being evacuated, and that all travel plans to Bariloche should be canceled. This, we discovered for ourselves, had not been the case for some months, and on days with wind blowing in the right direction, the ignorant traveler wouldn’t realise anything had happened there. Internet research on the Navimag proved similarly fruitless. Interestingly, the only personal account of the Navimag we had heard was from a Dutch traveler we met in Santiago. He had taken the Navimag Ferry about 10 years ago, and had woken in the night to find that the ship tilted dramatically to one side, and discovered, on further inspection, that this was because it was in the process of sinking. While this sounds like the sort of story which nightmares are made of, or possibly the inspiration for a horror film; the evacuation, he told us, had been a civilized affair and no one was hurt.

Navimag Shipwreck

Ghost Ship- a wreckage we passed

The boat turned out to be fine in some ways, and really poor in others. There was a nice bar upstairs, which sold drinks for reasonable prices and a TV which screened movies once a day. They played the same mix tape in the bar, over and over and over again which became pretty unbearable after a while. A brief aside: In Chile there are about 20 songs which you’re allowed to play in public, I’m not sure if its a law or just a social convention, but every venue, including the bar on the ship, plays a mix tape with about 7 of these 20 songs. Some examples are: Friday I’m in Love, by The Cure; Never Want to Give you Up, by Rick Astley; Living on a Prayer, by Bon Jovi, and some other song by Rick Astley which is only subtly different from Never Want to Give you Up; it really takes a trained ear to tell the difference between the two (I developed this skill after hearing each song about 7000 time).

The view from the boat

Below the Bar there was a huge eating hall where all meals were served. They also had lectures there from time to time, covering a wide range of topics, from Chilean flora all the way to Chilean fauna. The guy who took them was this likable and charismatic German guy who unfortunately had such a strong accent it became quite tiring to listen to after a while. Besides the decks, which were always painfully cold (probably to be expected as if the boat were to continue on the same course for another two days it would run aground on Antarctica), that’s pretty much all there was on board. Add to this, a complete communication blackout (no internet, telephones, tv etc) and you have all the ingredients for a really boring four days. Of course if your passions in life are drinking, occasionally watching movies, gazing out a window at Chilean coastline, and chatting with old people, I really recommend you take this boat trip. Otherwise, I’m not so sure its a good idea.

To the trips credit, however, the views from the ship are consistently amazing. The boat goes close to a glacier at one point, and there are heaps whales in the area (even blue whales we were told in broken English at an informative fauna lecture).

Glacier Navimag


On the third day as I sat in the corner of the eating hall, experiencing a level of boredom previously unknown to me, I watched a geriatric women peer around to check that no one was watching (didn’t see me apparently), then pour a decorative bowl of cumquats into her backpack and sneak off looking satisfied that her thievery had gone unnoticed. At about this point it hit me in a depressing kind of way that I really didn’t want to be on this boat anymore, and I regretted getting myself onto it.

Nick and Anna claim to have liked the trip though, so maybe my tolerance for boredom is unusually low,but I have my suspicions that Nick just likes any form of transport with dials, little flashing lights and navigation equipment. Still, I can promise you that if I go through some time vortex and wake up in the past with my current memories and have to plan my trip again, I’m taking the bus to Puerto Natales.

One thing which I’ll admit was really interesting is this town nestled in the mountains which we passed on the way. Its called Puerto Eden and is supposedly the most remote Chilean settlement save a colony on Antarctica. It has no roads and is accessible only by boats which must come from cities hundreds of kilometers away, it also has the highest frequency of rainfall of any place on earth (why anyone would want to live in this place I have no idea). Anyway, there is a race of people called the Kawéshkar of whom there are only 15 pure-blooded remaining, all of which live in this town. Unfortunately they are all men, and pretty old, so if you ever want to meet a Kawéshkari you should probably go to Puerto Eden ASAP.

Puerto Eden

Puerto Eden - The rainiest place in the world and most remote town in chile

Anna and Nick went on a side trip to walk around the town (unfortunately I was still food poisoned at this point) and said it felt a bit ghostly with mist in the air, and lots of rusty abandoned ships; most of the people obviously stayed indoors or at least their boat. The $10 fee the Navimag tourists pay for the lift ashore is probably the biggest (if not only) source of income for the strange little town.

Puerto Eden

The beautiful bay at Puerto Eden


December 16th, 2011

No, not the 1997 action drama starring Tommy Lee Jones; I’m talking about an actual volcano.

When I was a kid I was both fascinated and terrified by volcanoes. Just hearing what happened in Pompeii made me wonder why on earth anyone would ever consider making a town at all near a volcano. Chile has around 2000 volcanoes, approximately 59 of which are classed as “active”. The Chileans must be aware of the destructive power of volcanoes and yet they still build towns practically at the base of them. I’m not sure if it is the “better to die (almost) instantaneously than of ash inhalation and/or dead crops and polluted drinking water” mentality or because it just makes the horizon look quite nice but Chileans seem to love to be close to active volcanoes. Today we decided to get in the Chilean spirit and get as close to a volcano as is possible without dying.

As Anna mentioned in the last post, we are in Pucón which is right next to one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, Rucapillán. This is the volcano we decided to scale. It is 2800 metres high and is one of only a handful of volcanoes which actually have lava flowing around in the cone. Rucapillán has quite a history of eruptions; in recent times it erupted in1964, 1971 (leading to 15 deaths – cite wikipedia) and I think our tour guy said that it did in 1994 as well. So it is pretty active and apparently people become more worried when there isn’t smoke coming from it since it may indicate a build up of pressure.

You can’t climb Rucapillán without a tour group which at first sounds ridiculous but the volcano is basically completely covered in snow all year round so climbing it involves use of ice picks and proper footwear so really it makes a lot of sense. The first section of the climb is actually fairly terrifying if you are not used to walking up steep hills on snow; it just looks like you could slip and fall so easily. After a while you do get the hang of it and the best way to do it I discovered is to just look at your feet because otherwise the height will freak you out and you may loose your footing. The good news is that if you do slip and fall odds are you will basically just roll down the snow (unless you’re unlucky and hit jagged, volcanic rock).

The climb was pretty boring; it involved basically zig-zagging up snow for 3 hours until we reached the summit. The up side is (and I probably don’t need to say this but) the view was amazing. You could see the Andes and also three other towering volcanoes in the area. We could only really steal glimpses during the climb lest we loose our footing but it was great none the less.

climbing Rucapillán

Resting on the way up Rucapillán


Even though we could not see any lava at the summit, we could hear it; it sounds kind of like water crashing against rocks at the beach.  Some years it is high enough to be easily seen but we weren’t that lucky. One of the tour guys took a couple of us around the crater. The wind was blowing pretty much constantly in one direction so I am not sure why no one thought there would be any issues but we basically walked straight into the path of the smoke from the crater. The smoke, while mostly is made up of water vapor, also contains a fair amount of sulfur and chlorine so it was fairly unpleasant and kind of made your breathing passages feeling like they were burning. The tour guy was too dedicated to turn back so we ran through the smoke trying to not breathe it in so we could continue hearing about neighbouring peaks. It was a little painful.

Apparently there is also a couple of glaciers on the volcano but I was unaware of this until after the climb.


View of neighbouring summits from Rucapillán

Smoke from crater

Getting down was the best bit; walking is for idiots, we had these little sled things (basically just like a plastic plate which you sit on) which we used to get down at a nice speed. It was quite exciting but you had to get used to how to control it and it gets snow everywhere. I lost control once on the way down and it happened to be while hurtling towards this slab of concrete. A tour guy saw me and stood between me and the piece of concrete; I’m not sure what he was planning, maybe just to catch me or something but I think he would have ended up more hurt than I would if I hit the concrete block. Anyway my first plan was to just stick my ice pick into the snow like they do in movies to stop myself. It managed to stop my ice pick but it did nothing for me. So I went to my backup plan which was to turn on my side and stick my shoes hard into the snow. This managed to work and I came to a halt maybe 30cm away from this guy and managed to cover him in snow. I was embarrassed about losing control but also felt a little proud of myself for having a movie-like closeness to hitting the guy.

So we managed to get down to the bottom of the volcano safely, I think it took us 30 minutes (it took 3 hours to get up). It must have been 29 degrees or something at the bottom of the volcano so we had to quickly take off all our snow gear to avoid cooking in our own juices. There still managed to be chunks of snow down the bottom as well which was a little interesting.

On an unfortunate note, Sven is the first of our group to get food poisoning and could not climb the volcano. The food culprit is unknown and could be anything.  We have more of that to look forward to before this trip is over!

So we have the rest of the day to relax in our hostel here (which by the way was excellent, stay at Ruka Pucon if you’re ever in Pucon) before heading to Puerto Montt to catch a 4 day ferry to Puerto Natales. Soon we will be more south than we have ever been before! We are not sure whether the ferry will have wifi, so it may be a few days before our next post. Adios amigos!


December 14th, 2011

Shock shock shock! New site!

Well, a little different. It took us a whole bottle of Pisco Sour this afternoon to redecorate, so we hope you like it. We’re particularly pleased with the top banner, every time you load the page you will be greeted with a different photo from our trip. Overkill, perhaps, but neat right? The design was hotly debated, so let us know what you think. Suggestions welcome.

We’ve now left Bariloche, and are back in Chile in a town called Pucón. Our last day in Bariloche was spent hiking up to the refugio that we would have reached if we hadn’t chickened out on the terrifying mountain pass. Again, the walk was spectacular. Its amazing the variety of different country around Bariloche. This walk basically followed a river from where it flows into one of Bariloche’s enormous lakes, up to its source, the tranquil Laguna Negra and the snow caps that fill it. It’s beautiful country. Sven said it reminded him of Jurassic Park and I think he’s right – these great big open spaces, low green shrubbery and these colossal snow-capped cliffs with waterfalls tumbling down everywhere you look. Photos never quite capture the sense of height and space, but here were our best attempts:

Walking to Laguna Negra

Walking to Laguna Negra

Refugio Italia

Refugio Italia at Laguna Negra

As an interesting aside, the bus that took us to and from the walk was decorated somewhat eccentrically with fluffy blue frames on the mirrors and matching metallic playboy stickers. We’ve been on this route four times now, and each time the driver has been a humourless, aging Argentinian man so I don´t know what that´s about!

Bariloche Route 10

Bariloche Route 10

So that was Bariloche. We are all very glad that we didn’t listen to everybody’s warnings about the ash cloud and went anyway, it has been a major highlight! Pucón, where we are now, is a great little town filled with adventure activities. The ancient lonely planet we were reading at our last hostel described it as the “Queenstown of South America” and so far that seems pretty accurate. The main attraction is its volcano, one of only five in the world with a permanent lava pool which means its smoking continuously. We’ll be climbing up it tomorrow (if I don’t make myself sick from the kilo of raspberries I just bought), so stay tuned!

Pucon Volcano

Pucon Volcano

Quitters (especially Anna)

December 11th, 2011

Hola amigos!

Just a quick post about our first overnight hike. This is mostly just an excuse to show y’all some of the great photos we’ve taken over the last few days.

The hike which we had planned to do while in Bariloche was closed due to ice, so, on the advice of the guy working at our hostel, we set out for a different nearby hike with virtually no idea of what to expect. The track started near a bizarrely located hotdog stand (maybe 10km from the closest other building), and gradually wound uphill for about a kilometer. Then, all of a sudden, the track seemed to end. Luckily, Nick’s map (and brilliant navigation skills) gave us the general direction so we persevered along some tiny animal trails up a giant hill and into a forest. The uphill didn’t stop for a looonnggg time, sometimes it was more of a climb than a hike, but eventually we made it to a clearing from which we had a pretty impressive view.

Bariloche Lopez

Over the day we climbed from a starting point of about 800m to roughly 2000m, where our hut was, over a distance of only 4 km. For those of you who aren’t familiar with hiking distances and heights etc; this makes for an incredibly difficult walk. The steepness made the views more impressive though, and the hut we stayed in last night is possibly the most spectacularly located building in the world.

Refugio Lopez
Refugio Lopez (the hut)

The huts here are great. They have permanent staff (none of whom speak a word of English apparently) from whom one can buy chips, drinks, wine etc. And for about $12 a night they give you a comfortable mattress to sleep on. Anna and I went with this option, but Nick (being the tough mountaineer that he is) decided to camp in the cold and (later) the wet.

Refugio Lopez Camping
Nick´s tent is the closest one

Owing to weirdly timed buses, we had to leave for the hike before 8am, and, as a result, arrived at the hut before 2pm. This gave us a lot of time to look around, so Nick and I went exploring the mountain ridge directly behind our lodging. The mountains jutted about 300-400m above the height of the hut (about the height of Mt Cootha, for those of you who are from Brisbane) and were incredibly steep. We thought we´d try some climbing for fun, but discovered about 100m up, to our horror, red markers up the mountain side indicating the direction of the following day’s hike. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any good photos of the mountains, but I will try my best to describe the route up. The majority of the path required hands and feet to get anywhere, and if you looked back you could see maybe 2 m of steep ledge, then nothing until the level of the hut ground 100m below (we pretty much had to walk along the top of a cliff). If we slipped at any point we would certainly plummet to our deaths. I’m not usually scared of heights, and have even dabbled in rock climbing, but I kind of freaked out at this point and had one of those “oh my god i’m actually going to die in the next few minutes” moments, so we climbed back down the mountain.

Refugio Lopez
View of the hut from the terrifying mountain ledge

Because the hike we were doing was evidently far above the level of the regular traveler, the only hikers anywhere near the hut were locals who didn’t speak any English. When we asked if the mountain was, in fact, the path, they would all say ¨si, si¨ and tell us that it was easy. So we discovered at that point that Argentinians are some weird breed of mountain people, because no reasonable person would consider the path easy, or even safe. Eventually a group of five hikers clambered down the mountain from the other side. Four of them were more Argentinians, but luckily one of them was a German guy who spoke English, which was was great because while our Spanish is fine for ordering coffee, it’s not nearly at the level needed to discuss the difficulty of mountain climbing. The German had this crazy laugh which made him sound like a psychopath from a horror movie, but he turned out to be a good guy. He told us that the climb was, in-fact, hellishly difficult, and that once you scaled the first mountain, there were a series of mountain ridges covered in ice to get across. Later that night some Israeli´s came down the mountain looking thoroughly beaten. One had a gash in his leg which was bleeding a lot, from falling down on an ice sheet, he told us. At this point we started to think we might head back the next day.

The next morning it was raining a lot, and even the hut woman told us the pass would be dangerous (when an Argentinian mountain person tells you a pass is dangerous, it must be) so we had a good excuse to turn back without feeling like quitters. So that’s what we did! YEAH TEAM! (So, dear readers, contrary to the name of this post, Anna wasn’t especially responsible for our failings…)

One other thing I wanted to fit in- we think we saw an Andean Condor flying over the hut. ¨Whats so great about seeing an Andean Condor?¨ you might be thinking? Well let me tell you! They are the largest flying animal found anywhere on earth, which is pretty amazing in my opinion. It was pretty far away, so we cant be totally sure that it was a condor, but later the German guy said that he had definitely seen one around the same time, and the thing we saw flying was about the size of a fighter jet, so there’s not a lot else it could have been.

Andes Bird
An example of a bird which is not an Andean Condor. Just another sort of bird of prey which hung around the mountains


December 9th, 2011

Our first walk through the beautiful Patagonia! This post won’t have much substance and I wish I could put in some narrative flow but I do not posess the writing abilities. They say a picture is worth 1000 words and so I am hoping that this is true in order to make this post worth your while.

Our spirits and expectations of the national parks around Bariloche were dampened when we arrived yesterday to find an ash cloud where Bariloche was meant to be. Despite this we thought it would still be worth it to go for a walk the following day in the mountains and Christine (the Malmorian (i.e. Malmö in Sweden) we have been traveling with recently) had talked to people and basically organised the whole thing for us so we thought we may as well go along. The worst thing we supposed that could happen would be that we may breathe in enough ash to maybe age 20 years.

There must have been favourable winds or something during the night because looking out the window the following morning (before the walk) showed us that actually there was a town beneath of the ash of yesterday and what more there were beautiful mountains as well! At that point we thought that we might actually get to see some real beauty today and maybe only age 10 years instead of 20. With this new level of enthusiasm we hopped on the next bus to the skiing resort town located at Cerro Catedral. The skiing resort was, of course, a ghost town due to it being out of the skiing season (as a side note; this was the first time I have seen skii slopes not covered with snow) but it happens to be where a hike starts. We were only doing a day hike so the plan was to reach the first hut (or refugio as they are called here) of the hike and then come back (10km each way). Unbeknownst to me at the time was that the trail we were walking was one which I had wanted to do while in Patagonia (I was blindly following Christine so I hadn’t bothered to try and work out where we were going).

The walk was nothing short of spectactular, photos never give these things justice but they are nice none the less. This section of the Andes, as you will see, is much greener than near Santiago although not nearly as high. It felt very New Zealand-esk.

The theme of these photos is “Anna standing or sitting on a rock”. I assure you it was not intentional, it was just a conicendence that the good sceneriary photos included Anna … on a rock. So if you are a fan of Anna on rocks and nice scenary then get ready for the best darn photos you will ever experience.


Bariloche Frey

Near the beginning of the walk

Bariloche Frey

A river where we stopped to snack.


Bariloche Frey

This was the lake right next to the refugio.


Bariloche Frey

Us at the refugio. The middle one is Christine.

Anyway it was a tiring walk but inspired us to do another in the same area. So tomorrow we depart on a 2 night hike. I’m sure you are all looking forward to that!

Crazy South America

December 7th, 2011

Hey hey friends!

So we’ve had an interesting couple of days over here and our first real taste of the South American craziness that people talk about. I’ll start with the story of an interesting encounter we had with a Belgian guy:

So we were in Mendoza, Argentina (the wine city I mentioned in my last post) on Sunday, and being a Sunday in a heavily Catholic country, absolutely nothing was open, so we took the opportunity to take a long stroll around the parks. A few minutes out of the center of town, a European guy walks past us, then stops and turns around and asks ¨hablan ingles? (do you speak English)¨. Naturally we tell him that we do, and he asks us for directions to the “Plaza Independencia”. Nick had a map with him, so we stopped and Nick gave him some directions. The direction giving then turned into a brief discussion of our travels and countries of origin. The Belgian told us of his travel down from the Guiana´s north of Brazil, and how he was glad to be away from them, seeing as they have some of the highest crime rates in the world (worse in parts than Iraq he told us). We all looked a little shocked, as one does in response to such information, and filling a silence I said ¨I’m glad at it’s safe down this end of South America¨. He responded to this with ¨that’s what I thought! Thats why I came here! But its not, this morning at 11 in broad daylight I was, how do you say in English.. ‘mugged’, at the bus terminal!¨. He then told us his horrible story of getting off the bus, and being approached by a gang of kids wanting cigarettes. When he didn’t have any they started feeling his pockets for them and pushing him. He said he tried to run but one of them pushed him down and ripped his shirt and when he tried to fight back they splashed something in his eyes and pushed him over again. They took his wallet, money-belt with passport, his bags and his 2 cameras with all his photos from his trip. At this point in the story he looked thoroughly frantic and was sweating profusely.

But the story gets worse… because he had just arrived from Buenas Aires, he had everything he owned with him. In Argentina you can’t book into a hostel or book a bus ticket as a foreigner without a passport (as we well know), he had no cards to get any money, the police needed identity verification to come through from Belgium before giving him a police report (which he needed to get any help from his travel insurance). AND because Mendoza is a small town there is no Belgian consulate, the only European consulate is the German one which, he told us, was away with work until Wednesday. He would have to, he was told, get to the embassy in Buenos Aires which was an impossible bus trip away.

He thanked us for directions and said he´d better be on his way as he had to sort out somewhere to stay before dark, but as he was going we offered him 100 pesos (20$Aus) to get something to eat. He thanked us and tried to write his e-mail on a piece of paper so that he could arrange to pay us back- He was shaking so much that he gave me the pen to write it down because he couldn’t. We insisted we didn’t want to be paid back, and that it was the least we could do to help, but took his e-mail anyway because we wanted to hear what happened to him. Then he thanked us again, went on his way to the Plaza Independencia and we haven’t seen him since.

So we walked back to the hostel planning ways to prevent ourselves from ending up in his situation- we would put money in shoes, never leave the hostel with our passports on us etc. Once we got back to back we shared the story with an friendly Irish couple who were as shocked as we were to hear the story (Argentina doesn’t have a reputation for these type of muggings, save some slummier parts of Buenos Aires).

Later that night the Irish guy came over to us as we were eating with this smile on his face, holding his laptop and said ¨I had to come and find you guys to show you this¨. He turned round his computer so we could all read it. It was a wiki travel page with the following highlighted:

¨Be wary of scams, especially around the bus terminal. Occasionally foreigners will pretend to have been robbed and use your sympathy to “borrow” money for a bus ride. Specifically, a guy claiming to be a Dutch/Belgian traveler (blond/brown hair, about 30 years old) who got ‘mugged’ at the station, having everything including his backpack taken. Do not help him out, he’s a local and has been doing this for a while¨. We read elsewhere that hes been doing it professionally since 2006, and is quite famous in these parts.

So yeah. We got scammed, but in our defense the guy was really good. Truth is, it did cross all of our minds that it might be some sort of scam while it was going on (for no real reason other than that we are constantly told by all travel advice forums not to trust any strangers in South America), but we figured it was better to lose $20 than read ¨Belgian traveler starves to death after he is mugged and no one helps him¨ in a newspaper a week later.

What is so bizarre about the whole thing is that a Belgian would move to Argentina to pursue a career in petty fraud against sympathetic tourists. He seemed to be a legitimate European- he was white, had a European accent, and when I told him my name he asked me if I spoke German, in German. AND he spent almost an hour talking to us, and never asked for a cent (we offered, when a lot of people wouldn’t, and he still only made $20). We read on a forum later that another group gave him $700, so I guess he relies on tourists who are more generous than us. To be totally honest it was worth the $20 for the show, and now we know what to look out for in future. We also now know that Mendoza isn´t actually dangerous- just morally bankrupt.

The next day we ended up in the back of an Argentinian police car… don´t worry, we havn´t been arrested for drug trafficking or anything- It´s all far more innocent than that. This is what happened: Being in the wine capital of South America we thought we had best go on one of the famous bicycle wine tours. So we met up with our Swedish friend, Christine, whom we knew from Santiago. She speaks better Spanish than us and we thought that between us we´d be able to get to the vineyards budget style rather than on an expensive tour (a quick aside: damn Europeans, we Australians are here struggling to learn a few sentences and it seems to take the average European a week until they’re chatting with locals). So anyway we caught the bus and, naturally, ended up 4 kilometers from where we wanted to be. So we found another bus, and showed the bus driver a map, and pointed to ¨Mr Hugo´s: Wines and Bikes¨ on it and asked if it was the right bus. He told us it was so we got on. The bus trip was not really what we expected, considering we thought we were heading to vineyards; the area seemed to be getting slummier and the houses more and more dilapidated as we went further, and eventually we were even driving on unpaved dirt roads. Then beside some dirt highway, the bus-driver ordered us to get out, which we did. The place felt like the setting of some Deep-Southern American slasher flick. The only life around was some woman who must have been about 95 years old, in a dilapidated caravan with ¨cafe¨ written beside it. She beckoned us over then said something in weird Spanish which none of us understood.

Apparently the trailer is a cafe


After a bit of standing and feeling confused, we started walking down the road with no idea of where we were or why, just hoping we wouldn´t be raped and beaten to death by Argentinian Deliverance-style hillbillies. None of us had a phone or any way of calling a cab, or even if we could to tell them where we were. Eventually an Argentinian cop on a motorbike rode past, saw us and came over (thank God!) and arranged for us to be picked up be a squad car and taken to the vineyard. Apparently the bus had taken us in completely the wrong direction. Not sure if the bus driver didn’t understand where we wanted to go, or just thought it would be fun to freak out some tourists. Either way we made it to the vineyards courtesy of the Argentinian tax payer!

Now Mendoza wine and bike tours are amazing (Christoph this would be your dream holiday activity). Basically what happens is you arrive at the place, they give you a ~200ml glass of wine and a map, you have to drink the wine before you get your bike (just enough to affect your judgment of speed and distance), then they unleash you on the poorly maintained roads without helmets or any advice (there is no way in hell Mr Hugo´s little operation would fly in Australia- its a thoroughly dangerous enterprise he’s running- but we though ¨ooh well, when in Rome¨). So then you spend the day riding between vineyards, beer gardens, and a spirits and chocolate factory, tasting interesting and exotic food and drink.

Shots of Absynthe being served to us at the liquor factory


Also over here they don’t do the taste and spit out thing, your expected to drink everything your given. We only did the half day tour, but if you took the full day and visited everything in the area you would end up dangerously wasted. It was a really great day altogether and we had no accidents or injuries even though we got caught in a thunderstorm.

Sven and swedish girl (Christine) biking to vineyard


After the wine tasting we had to run to catch an 18 hour bus to Bariloche, a Quaint little city in the south of Argentina in the lakes district. Interestingly, a series of historians who have written on the possible escape of Hitler from his bunker, believe he lived here in Bariloche until he died here in the 60´s. There is ¨overwhelming proof¨ that this is the true story of Hitler, one book tells me. I cant say I’m convinced, but its interesting nonetheless?

Some mountains on route to Bariloche


So basically Bariloche is known for its beautiful lake front view, and stunning mountain surroundings. The problem is, a volcano erupted 90km away from here (yeah, you remember the one from the news which disrupted all the flight paths? We knew that has happened somewhere near but never put 2 and 2 together) and spewed thousands of tonnes of ash into the air covering the city in 30cm of ash over the first few days. The volcano is so huge we got a dust storm in Mendoza from it, over 800Km away. Initially Bariloche was evacuated and in a state of emergency, but now, life has sort of continued, but the volcano is still erupting, and the air here is worse than any Chinese city. 

The Ash in the air of Bariloche. Usually you should see mountains


I find it hurts to breath outside, but I have unusually sensitive lungs and I’m told its not the harmful kind of volcanic ash. I’m still hoping to get out of here as soon as possible and head south early.. I guess we´ll see what happens. But the bus trip was very beautiful before the ash blew in, so hopefully it will blow away and we’ll have a clear day or two.

Leaving Santiago

December 5th, 2011

Hey Friends

Sorry we haven´t been posting much lately. This has been because my computer died, and also because not that much has been happening except for Spanish class and typical holidaying. Now that we´re back on the road and have a new computer we will hopefully post more regularly.

So anyway we´ve finally moved on after 2 weeks in Santiago. While I love Santiago and will always have fond memories of my time there, I have to say it was time to leave. Santiago has the reputation (deservingly I´m told by many) of being the safest and most boring city in all of South America. By Australian standards its still pretty happening, but we keep hearing travelers stories from the more exotic cities of Bolivia and Peru which always end with ¨its amazing… you´ve got to see it to believe it¨ or something like that. It makes ol´ Santiago feel a tad dull in comparison.

Also about half of the population of the orient (or more accurately, about 20 retirees from Hong Kong) moved into our hostel over our last few days there and I cant say it improved the feel of the place. The hostel is smallish to begin with, and completely unsuited for large groups of geriatric travelers. They would all move together like some sort of flock so often we would find that there was an impassable barrier of old Asian people cutting off access to some section of the hostel. Apparently they caused a real stir amongst the staff there actually. The group spoke very little English (or Spanish for that matter), so when they encountered a sign on one of the bathroom doors saying ¨DO NOT ENTER¨ they casually removed the sign and proceeded use the shower continuously for several hours. It turns out the sign had been there for a reason (what a surprise right?) and it completely flooded the ceiling cavity of the room below, which then melted in that way that plasterboard ceilings do when exposed to excessive amounts of water. As a result of all this the kitchen below was flooded. So its no surprise that the group was not popular amongst the staff. This is probably an understatement as the hostel counter guy said ¨I want to kill them!¨ about 3 or 4 times over the course of telling me this story- he also told me that they stole all of the staples from his desk when he let his guard down for a split second, which i thought was pretty funny.

On our last day in Santiago we finally made it to the city walking tour which is normally one of the first things most people do when they arrive in the city, but we had been preoccupied with Spanish classes and other stuff. It was an interesting insight into the history and politics of Chile. They´ve had a surprisingly tumultuous political past there, and in the last 50 years have had both the first ever democratically elected socialist/communist party, and an absolute military dictatorship (you’ve probably all heard of Pinochet?) which was responsible for thousands of political murders and nearly 30000 cases of torture of Chilean people for political reasons (this is a lot considering chile only has a population of 15 million). According to our guide most Chileans know of someone who mysteriously disappeared during Pinochet´s rule. Now that Pinochet is gone, some super capitalist conservative government has taken power, and as a result Chile has one of the worst discrepancies between the wealth of rich and poor of any country in the world. 4% of people control 96% of the wealth or something (don’t quote me on that but it was some similarly shocking statistic)

Chileans love their flags. There is a flag 1/4 the size of a football field in the centre of Santiago, and on one day every year it is a crime to not display a Chilean flag on your property

After the tour we had one of the better meals I’ve had here. At our hostel they have this buffet every Friday; Its all you can eat pasta, salads and steak, and all you can drink beer and wine for $12Aus. The steaks in South America are really REALLY good. I don´t know why people go crazy for Australian beef- it doesn’t compare to the stuff you can get here. The cuts are usually about 1.5 inches thick and always cooked to perfection. So i ate about a kilo of steak last night (if the food is as good everywhere in South America, I’m going to come back to Australia so damn fat) I went pretty easy on the alcohol though. At last weeks buffet i had maybe 4 glasses of wine and woke up feeling like i´d been roofied, and had my brain stomped on. The wine here tastes great but I swear they put antifreeze or something in it.

Asador (BBQ) in Hostel (sin carne)

So anyway, we caught the bus to Mendoza this morning (which is where we are now). Mendoza is this small city near the Andes which is famous for its wine and produces about 80% of Argentina’s wine, or so some Californian guy i met earlier tells me. Its a bit early to comment on the place, having only been here for a couple of hours, BUT the bus trip here was pretty spectacular. To get here from Santiago you have to drive directly through the Andes if you don’t want to take a 4000km detour, so the bus path gets to over 3000m high (we think), so there were some amazing Mountain vistas.

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Welcome to the real Chile

November 28th, 2011

So, our first weekend abroad and in Chile… It would have been nice to be able to include Santiagian night life in this introduction to the “real Chile” but a night out for South Americans does not start until 1am (later in other countries) and we have not yet had the energy to commit to such a night. The real Chile I am talking about here is what we experienced on Saturday when we all piled into this guy’s 4×4 and drove for 2 hours east of Santiago. Santiago is so big that it basically took us 1 hour just to get out of the city, then it was just a matter of pointing the car towards the mountains and driving. After a while we entered the Andes and hit a dirt road; the guy driving turned to us and said “Welcome to the real Chile”. We soon stopped at this small mountain town and set off for a walk.

The destination of the walk was pretty vague, just to walk enough of some track to see the tip of the glacier near(ish) to Santiago (the track which leads to the glacier is really long and tough so you basically need horses to get there). Of course the secondary purpose of the walk was to experience the Andes of central Chile. Both of the these things we did; the glacier, while I’m sure is impressive closer up, was not much to see from probably 80 km away, but the miniscule section of the Andes we saw was amazing. Everything in the Andes is on such a perceptually difficult scale. And I’m not just throwing around weird descriptions to sound artistic and “hip”; it is actually hard to take in the sizes and distances of everything. For a small (not very good) example see the photo below; there is a road running along there with a car on it but it is barely noticeable in the photo. You don’t realise just how colossal these mountains are until you get a point of reference like that.


Reference for mountain

Just for a “Nick, Anna and Sven altitude update”, we were at 2.5km altitude at the end of this walk which is probably the highest all of us have been on land (Mount Kosciuszko – the highest point in Australia- is 2.2km just for reference) and we can look forward to being much higher later on in this trip! (maybe even double!). I thought I may as well throw in a picture of all of us – enjoy!


Us in Los Andes